More than 7,700 cast ballots in first 2 days of early voting

Candidate forums, ‘voter expos’ and ‘poll parties’ add to the mix

By , Daily Memphian Updated: July 20, 2022 9:48 AM CT | Published: July 18, 2022 4:00 AM CT

A total of 7,763 voters cast early ballots in the first two days of early voting ahead of the Aug. 4 election day in Shelby County.

Early voting continues Monday at 26 locations across the county and runs through July 30. Here are the locations and the hours.

By the turnout numbers from the Shelby County Election Commission -- which include absentee and nursing home votes -- 4,239 of the early votes were cast in the Democratic primary with 3,365 voting in the Republican primary.

Another 159 voted in the county general elections only.

The ballot is a mix of local elections and state and federal primaries.

In triple-digit temperatures Saturday, the first weekend of early voting in Shelby County came with several “poll parties” and a peek at what is ahead for voters in November.

Riverside Missionary Baptist Church featured one of about 26 “voter expos” by the Shelby County Election Commission and the Shelby County Voter Alliance Saturday, July 16, at every early voting site.

Early voting opens with Shelby County’s ‘big ballot’

The Shelby County Voter Alliance and the Memphis Interfaith Coalition for Action and Hope — MICAH — and the Ben F. Jones Chapter of the National Bar Association sponsored the “Power at the Polls” rally with a candidates forum by UpTheVote901.

The expo — with food, water and snow cones — drew a large crowd of candidates to the church’s parking lot while the forum drew a smaller crowd in a church auditorium.

Meggan Kiel of MICAH said the poll party settings will move around and continue during early voting on the next two Saturdays as a way to cultivate early voting that goes beyond setting up a voting location and opening it to voters.

Similar parties are planned next Saturday, July 23, at the early voting locations at the Greater Lewis Street Baptist Church site at East Parkway and Poplar and the Berclair Church of Christ site on Summer Avenue.

“The early voting is fun because you can make it a community event,” she said. “You can bring your whole family. You don’t all have to live in the same neighborhood and go to your different precincts. You can all come together.”

Ballot Basics: Early voting is July 15-30

MICAH is part of the Shelby County Voter Alliance along with the Memphis Branch NAACP and the groups did some advance work ahead of early voting in the nonpartisan effort.

“We’ve been going out every Saturday across different communities in Memphis to get information,” Kiel said. “We want people to understand the impact of this election. — that this is a once every eight years — the positions go until 2030.”

It’s also an effort to build on 2020 presidential general election turnout locally, which is normally the most popular election cycle by turnout.

In the early voting and absentee run up to the November 2020 election day, Shelby County set records for both of those ways of voting. But the elections included pandemic measures that expanded the reasons for requesting an absentee ballot.

“We’re trying to explain to everyone who came out in 2020 to come out again because your district attorney, your mayor, your commission — all of these positions are more impactful on our day-to-day life and our communities than the presidential election,” Kiel said.

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The early voting location inside Riverside was a middle ground between the campaigns and the forum — the party in the heat and the discussion out of the heat.

The church campus’ long frontage on South Third Street in southwest Memphis was festooned its full length with campaign signs and candidates and campaign workers waving more signs at passing cars and trucks along what is a state highway.

A car pulling into the parking lot drew lots of attention from the different campaigns seeking to get the candidate’s literature into the hands of the voters they outnumbered. Also in circulation were endorsement ballots.

The local Republican and Democratic party endorsement ballots began showing up in mailboxes this weekend.

On the other side of the polling place entrance, a group of incumbent judges seeking re-election stood in the shade of the church’s auditorium building. A trash can by the door was filled with the campaign flyers and endorsement ballots.

It will be hard to gauge how much early voting increases or decreases compared to those in the same election cycle because there are more early voting sites — 26 — than in past elections on the “big ballot” cycle that comes once every eight years.

Commission seeks mix of poll workers for the upcoming election day

And all the early voting sites were open on Friday’s first day of the period. In past big-ballot elections, there have been staggered openings with one or a few of the sites open on opening day.

Nevertheless, Shelby County Elections administrator Linda Phillips said Friday’s opening day of more than 5,200 was a good start that drew more voters than she anticipated.

“It was extremely busy for a midterm and a little ahead of what we had expected. We had enough equipment out,” she said. “Nobody waited more than 10 minutes or so. It is a very long ballot.”

She said, “2020 was the first time we had opened early voting locations on the first day of the August elections.” 

But the 2020 ballot didn’t feature the bulk of county offices that are on the ballot every four years or the judicial races that come every eight years.

Phillips said the average early voter so far is taking eight minutes to vote.

“We’ve had some as long as 21 minutes. And the fastest was 2.3 minutes,” she said. “But I suspect that person cherry-picked the races they voted in.

Here are the changes voters will be navigating when early voting begins

Ian Randolph of the Shelby County Voter Coalition said his time to cast his ballot was about the average.

“It’s very long. I vote in every election and it took me at least eight minutes,” he said. “And I knew who I was voting for. It was scrolling through and then rechecking. … I suffered through it and I think it’s well worth it.”

How much time it takes to vote is a key metric that the election commission watches closely. It is a factor in how many machines are needed per site or precinct and how much election staff is needed.

The ballot has 163 races including statewide judicial retention races with 344 candidates in those races as well as a citywide referendum in Memphis.

While no voter will see all of those races, the big ballot gets its name from the once-every-eight-year races for the judiciary that are, for the most part, countywide and statewide races on every voter’s ballot.

With the exception of four municipal court races in Memphis, Collierville and Germantown — there are 66 judicial races that all voters have on their ballots and those races have 119 candidates.

Here is a way to look up the district races that will be on your specific ballot.

The once-a-decade redistricting process changed some district boundaries on the Shelby County Commission and in the Tennessee Legislature late last year and early this year. So, some voters will inevitably be surprised to find themselves in a new district.

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Voters, who by late morning were showing up and voting in a stream of about five at a time at Riverside, got help in figuring out their districts from the alliance that had a table with district maps as well as one of the new voting machines that will debut in the November elections.

The updated touch screens print out a copy of a voter’s choices, which the voter reviews before running it through a digital scanner and from there into a sealed ballot box to become an audit trail.

The November elections will also include offering voters a choice of voting on hand-marked paper ballots.

The sample ballots printed out and on the new machine sought votes on the best U.S. beaches, favorite dog breed and the favorite way to spend free time.

Randolph said the test run is an attempt to get voters familiar with the new technology ahead of the November election, which starts early voting in mid-October.



August 2022 election early voting Riverside Missionary Baptist Church Shelby County Election Commission voter expo poll party

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Bill Dries

Bill Dries

Bill Dries covers city and county government and politics. He is a native Memphian and has been a reporter for more than 40 years.


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